The following is a guide for those who apply for financial assistance to be used to clarify our first condition that candidates should be Evangelical in conviction and outlook.
Dr Ruth Etchells addressed members on the subject on 9th May 1986.
I It is clear that Evangelicals today still have a sense of identity. In 1985 she had been invited to present a paperat the informal consultation between Evangelicals for the Church of England and the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and their advisors at Lambeth. The implication was that Evangelicals by then were so great a force within the church that the two Archbishops quite naturally asked for their help in times of difficulty. This said something about the task of Evangelicals within the church as a whole, a task which has not been changed.
II At no point then or since had Evangelicalism lost touch with its deep roots, but there was a changed status. In the past Evangelicals had been numerically weak, poitically powerless, had a persecution comlex, yet had at the time been a tremendous force spiritually. Among liturgical "taboos" such as the "North End position", social taboos (not quite U) and even the use of extemporary prayer(now no longer distinctively Evangelical) there was now a Pauline freedom, yet retaining a sensitivity to one another's consciences, remained vital (and is Pauline).
III The church will still recognise in us these characteristics:-
1 Evangelicals are firmly based on the bible as authoritative, reading the New Testament with confidence, rather than with suspicion.
2 Evangelicals stress doctrinally an objective atonement, though the penal and satisfaction views are no longer the only interpretations held. Worryingly, among those in training for the ministry generally, there seemed to be a loss of a sense of sin; and so the force of redemption - in prayer one rarely heard "Lord, I'm very sorry..." So this characteristic Evangelical doctrine remains a vital contribution to the church's life.
3. Evangelicals stress the need for conversion as a new quality of life, and
4 A doctrine of assurance. "God's victory controlling our living", as opposed to the liberal "God's kingdom cannot be present until these structures have been redeemed". In the church generally there is a loss of a sense of total victory already won by Christ - and so an assurance of victory. God is Sovereign - God is in charge - is the very core of the Good News we must carry to the nation. His great work for us through the Lord Jesus Christ is underwritten by that Sovereignty.
IV Our identity as Evangelicals is no longer seen in the wearing of special clothes, using a holy language, nor in uniformity of liturgical practice, nor in a particular theological interpretation of scripture, but in -
1 A conviction of the central content of Biblical belief,
2 A conviction about the direction of the task to which God has called us. Proclamation and Pastoring - Mission in its profoundest and widest sense.
3 A calling to the development of an Evangelical spirituality rooted in
a) belief and b) the task to achieve
V There remains rightly, an insistence on the authority of Scripture in leading to belief, but also a need to grow in that belief. As Evangelicals we give full weight to the material and historical claims of the text as well as the metaphorical. We start from revelation, not from deduction from contemporary society, a revelation that is public and objective.
VI But such an emphasis on revelation means that Evangelicals also need the disciplines of the church, to counter undisciplined private interpretation. We are no longer a sub-group serving itself, our task is to confront the church and the world with our passion for the Good News. We have responsibility to and for the church and the world, not just for our own membership.
VII Our spirituality is shaped by personal knowledge of the grace of God, marked by loving one another, loving the church, and loving the world (since God loved the world). The world is redeemed - do we believe it? (Bishop Geoffrey Paul's dying address to his ordinands). Sadly, we are characteristically judgemental, quick to exclude, rather than close to the Lord who drew all sorts of unlikely people to Himself. There is a tendency to say "Who is to blame?", rather than "What can be done?", and in this we reflect only too clearly the spirit of our age. Rather, the people of God should make a commitment to stay together. Evangelicals with each other, and Evangelicals with the rest of the Church, however difficult this is. There is a solemn responsibility to address to the world the Word of God with compelling proclamation. This will not be heard unless we show ourselves able to "live in love" with each other. Prayer must always be practised in a disciplined time apart as well as experienced in the whole texture of life. Merely viewing it as "the whole of life" too easily means it becomes no part of life.
VIII In the General discussion Dr Etchells also remarked that younger Evangelicals seemed to reject the need for any historical perspective, although it is essential to any understanding of how God intervened in events of the past, and continues to do so today.
In later discussion members considered the following points to be important. An Evangelical -
1. proclaims Justification by Faith alone.
2. emphasizes the importance of the Christian community, and
3. the priesthood of all believers.
4. regards the Holy Communion as sacrament, not sacrifice.
5. considers prayer and bible reading central.
6. The experience of God in your life is more important than having a correct theology of Grace, but it is difficult to define experience. The experience of God is a start in a personal faith, and encouraging people to pray is often a practical way forward. There is no longer a clear division of churchmanship within evangelicalism. Many who would not consider themselves Evangelicals would agree with a lot of the points above. There should be a generosity of spirit in not being too quick to judge others. God moves us on but the centrality of Jesus must remain.
It was generally agreed that a check list of doctrines was not the way forward.
With the wholesale uniting of benefices whereby churches of different traditions became one Benefice with one vicar, the need to be non-judgemental and to have a generosity of spirit to those of differing traditions is even more necessary.